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when is compost ready

 
pollinator
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Location: Huntsville Alabama (North Alabama), Zone 7B
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I have been attempting my first hot compost pile this year.  While turning I added a vent pipe in the middle and also included large bamboo that had large cracks as passive air vents.  Think this helped in keeping the temperature high and keeping the anaerobic activity away.

I was getting almost to 150F for almost two weeks but cooled down.  I turned it yesterday because it was only around 100F and today it is only getting to 80F inside.   The light brown material on top last picture is the spent compost tea mix since I thought it would also be nice addition.

It has a mild earthy smell.  The pile height has drooped 25% overall.

How do I know when the compost is ready to use?  Does it still need to cure?

Any recommendations on adding to existing fruit trees, bushes and vines?   I have seen mentions of 1/4th inch and also 6 inches on top of surface.

I will also add this to my veggie garden because it looks like I have a lot to go around.
Thanks
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pollinator
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You're not the only one, a bin of shredded fallen leaves (very dry) doused with urine and crushed charcoal I started this week was nice and hot (to the touch - no thermometer) when I turned it two days ago but it seems no 'cooking' was done since then when I turned it earlier (not hot at all) . I'll leave it alone for 48-72 hours and keep my fingers crossed while praying to the gods of Geoff Lawton and Doctor Elaine Ingham.  I guess it's all part of the mysterious game we call composting.

Good luck to us all.
 
pollinator
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Location: ALASKA
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In my non expert opinion that doesn't look like finished compost.  Too many recognizable parts and pieces and too coarse in texture .  My compost will have a few bits, usually woody things like small branches etc that are recognizable, but mostly looks like a dark rich "soil". Crumbly in texture and has a definite earthy smell and no longer heats up when turned.  How long has this compost been working off?  Here in my climate I can only make one batch a year.  I usually start the pile one summer and use the grass clippings and fall leaves along with my chicken coop cleanings.  I'll keep it turned until freeze up then it goes dormant.  In the spring I'll add some more greens to jump start it then keep it turned at least weekly and watered as needed until the fall.  I then add it to where ever I need it.  In your climate the time may most likely be shorter than in my climate.  
 
garden master
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Hey Dennis, that's a great compost bin you've made and with your vents and all I think you're certainly getting plenty of oxygen. Like Walt noted, it to me also has too many recognizable pieces. I also suggest adding some more nitrogen/green stuffs and heat it back up again, maybe do that a few more times. When I compost, I do it in a sort of passive or lazy mans way, dumping food scraps and also the chicken bedding in the compost pile. I don't actively tend to it and only turn it once a month, and my compost takes a long time to compost, like a year, but it does break down. Here's a link to a picture of some of my finished compost in my hand- https://permies.com/t/67972#635043  It has very few chunky woody bits and is very soft and fluffy, and smells good too.
 
Walt Chase
pollinator
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James. that is good looking compost in your picture.  I turn mine more often than you, but have the benefit of being able to turn it with a front loader on the tractor.  I have a pretty big pile of compost....
 
gardener
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It looks a little bit on the wet side, but I'd use it.  I'd say that you should turn it and let it dry out for a week or so, but its ready to use right now if you want.

If you are using it as a top dressing (mulch) around the base of established plants, it's perfect as it is.

If you are planning to incorporate it into potting soil or mix it into your garden, then you may wish to finish it a little bit longer.  If you want to heat it up, try mixing about 20 lbs of coffee grounds in with your next turn.  Hello Starbucks.  That'll give it a shot of nitrogen and will jump start it.  The grounds will blend right in and you won't have to wait for them to break down.
 
gardener
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That heap is waiting for the worms to come and do their part now. (that's why the chunks are still large, nothing has been chewing on them because of the heat)
I would also suspect that there are not huge numbers of bacteria working at this point so a mist of sugar water might also be a good step.
Check the larger chunks for white threads, odds are the fungi aren't there for the same reason as the bacteria, (during the hot phase there are only a few bacteria strains doing the work, after the cool down is when the really good guys can take over).
At this stage you can remove that batch from the very well set up bin and let it finish out on the soil.
I would think that in a month you will have super nice material.

Redhawk
 
Dennis Bangham
pollinator
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Thanks for the guidance everyone.  I will put some around my fruits and let the worms enjoy.  This weekend is a good time to break it down since it is now back to 100F.  I will also have several Lion's Mane Spent Blocks to add to the mix of sugar water.
 
He repaced his skull with glass. So you can see his brain. Kinda like this tiny ad:
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